Meditation: A Powerful Tool or Touchy-Feely Crap?

Today someone in my circle said, “meditation is touchy-feely crap. You can meditate all you want, but it doesn’t change your circumstances. It doesn’t change how much is in your bank account and it doesn’t change what’s going to happen to you in the future.”

On its face, this seems like a legitimate concern. There is abundant research showing the many benefits of meditation on things like heart rate, developing calmness, reducing anxiety, etc. So maybe meditation is good for internal things, but can it really impact what’s going on outside of you?

In 1937, Napoleon Hill, in his famous book, Think and Grow Rich, described our subconscious minds as “sending stations,” claiming that “vibrations of thought are broadcast,” out into the universe. From there, goes his theory, they can be converted into the manifestation of our desires. Decades before Hill’s publication, Charles Haanel offered a similar message in The Master Key System. He strongly asserted that, “thought will manifest in form.” Today, many preach the same basic message. Joe Dispenza, for example, offers a modern spin on the same basic ideas.

Indeed, there appears to be research demonstrating the ability of the mind to influence things outside of one’s own body. For example, in 1988, researchers conducted an experiment with a random event-generating robot and baby chicks. When baby chicks are born, they imprint on the first creature they see, believing it to be their mother. They will then follow that creature anywhere. Understanding this, scientists created a robot that was designed to move randomly around a pen. The chicks were shown the robot after being born so that they would imprint on the robot. Then they were confined in a separate pen wherein they could see the robot but couldn’t get to it. The subsequent movements of the robot were measured. Amazingly, although its movements were completely random in a control, when the chicks were watching it, the robot hovered around the area closest to the chicks. The theory was that the chicks, who were desperate to be with what they thought was their mother, were influencing the movement of the robot with their minds.

When I first heard this, I thought, “no way.” I started to question the research. I then wondered if anyone had successfully replicated the experiment. It turns out a more elaborate version of the same experiment had been done essentially confirming the findings.

A few days ago, I had a meditation session in which I was trying to allow my mind to drift into that sweet spot that I don’t really know how else to describe. About half an hour into the meditation session, I felt like I was kind of there when one of our cats walked in and sat down across the room from me. She’s done this regularly when I meditate at home. She typically just perches nearby and hangs out until I’m done. This time, however, I had the thought of this chick experiment in my head. Without saying anything, I started thinking, “maybe if this stuff is real, I could think her into moving over to this spot next to me on the couch while I’m in this meditative state.” Keep in mind I’ve never seen her go to that spot while I was meditating before. A moment later, she got up and walked over to the place I was thinking about. “Okay, maybe that was just coincidence,” came the skeptical thought. “How about she moves over to that other spot on the opposite corner of the couch? If she did that, I might be more of a believer.” Then she did exactly that.

The rest of the morning, I kept questioning the experience. I finally came to, “alright, even if I assume that surreal experience was really what it appeared to be, moving robots and cats around is one thing. To really have any impact, I’d have to have intentions that are outside of time.” My thinking was that if I wanted to truly influence something, my intentions would have to be traveling forward or backward through time. For example, once I realized what was happening in any given situation in the future, the time to do something about it is often in the past. Thus, to truly impact something I’d have to have my thoughts influence things before they occur. To illustrate, imagine I’m in a car accident. To truly have an impact on that thing, I’d have to have an intention that goes back to before that accident to prevent myself from being in that accident or to at least alter how I deal with that accident to minimize the damage. If there really is some magical thought field that influences the universe, it can’t alter time, can it?

Though perhaps a bit abstract, my mind drifted to that string of thoughts for the remainder of the morning. I finished up my morning routine, got ready, and prepared to go to work. That morning I had to be in a courthouse downtown for a hearing I couldn’t be late for. I took off at a time that should have given me at least 15 minutes to spare. But, after I left, traffic got bad. It turned out there was an accident on the freeway, and everything was backing up. I started to feel anxiety as I thought to myself, “I need to be to court on time.” Traffic continued to slow. Anxiety grew.

Then, the recurring thought from the morning came back to me. I can’t send thoughts through time into the ether, can I? I’m basically going to be late. I can’t alter that, right? After all, we can’t change time itself.

Finally, I calmed myself down and just said, “everything will be fine. It’ll just work out.” There was a moment in the car where I felt like my mind touched back to that sweet spot I’d hit in meditation earlier that morning. I made the decision to hand over my fate to the universe. In the back of my mind was the thought about altering time.

I was supposed to be at court at 9:00 a.m. I got to the courthouse at 9:06 a.m. I ran into the courtroom and talked with the clerk. He said to me, “sorry, the judge called in, so we have a judge pro tem [a substitute judge] coming in today, but he’s running late. We have a few hearings from this morning that still haven’t been dealt with, so we may not get to your 9:30 hearing.”

I played off the clerk’s comments coolly, but in my head, I was thinking, “oh my gosh, I had the wrong time all morning. I thought I was supposed to be there by 9:30 and I had 9:00 in my head. Because, in the past, I was thinking the wrong time I actually ended up not being late despite the accident on the freeway. On top of that, the judge was running late, so I had even more time.”

It struck me once again that I needed to open my eyes to the messages being offered me. My own lessons were apparently building on each other. But for the first few moments of anxiety, I felt pretty calm all morning amidst the impending sensation of being late for a hearing I couldn’t be late for. While I’m not sure that I have all the pieces put together, it seems pretty clear to me that there’s something powerful in meditation that extends beyond the self.

I encourage you to question ideas like this. I feel compelled to do so myself. But, even if, you completely reject all this as motivated reasoning or me just hunting for what I want to find, there remains the very rational line of thought that if meditation has zero direct impact on the outside world, it still clearly impacts you. And if you behave differently then the way you interact with the outside world will change too. And if the way you interact with the outside world changes, then what you have or what happens to you is going to change as well. When I walked into the courtroom, I felt calm. I didn’t feel panicky even though I thought I was late. So, even if there was no mystical implications to what was happening, it was altering how I was dealing with the situation.

The person that says, “meditation is touchy-feely crap. It won’t change what you have or what happens to you in life,” is absolutely right. It won’t change that person’s life and it won’t change what happens to him. But the person that says, “it will have an impact,” will—at a bare minimum—approach the world in a different way, which will in turn alter his or her circumstances.

Regardless of the degree of the causal relationship between the world and your meditative mind, it remains that meditation is an important element in emotional embuffination. Even if it’s only to calm yourself down in crisis situations, that behavior is critical to emotional training. Accordingly, if you aren’t meditating, you should be.

By denevoldsen

David has spent years studying emotions and conflict in his practice as a family law attorney, while obtaining his bachelors degree in psychology, and through his own personal life struggles. He's on a continuing journey to better understand how to use emotions to make life a wonderful thing for everyone.